Over the years I have very intentionally put myself in watery situations in an attempt to conquer my aquaphobia. I have gone on cruises, I have taken boat rides, I have vacationed in beach-side rentals.
Determined not to miss out on the thrill of living, I have hyperventilated and worn life vests while snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and the Sea of Cortez. The fishies are so very beautiful, as long as they stay away from me. I’m afraid of them, too.
Last year, when Rob and I were on a Caribbean cruise snorkel excursion, I got to use an almost brand-new snorkel and mask. I was amazed that hardly any water seeped into my mask or mouthpiece, that I didn’t have to resurface frequently to flail about while trying to clear everything out. I honestly thought that anxiety-ridden flail-and-clear thing was just part of snorkeling. Turns out it’s just part of snorkeling with well-used rental equipment.
This new insight was a game changer.
And so, with a March Maui trip on the horizon, Rob got me a Christmas gift certificate for the local dive shop (we have just one --- which is different from the local dive bar of which we have many). When I went to go choose my snorkel and mask, I was delighted to learn that masks come in sizes. Sizes! Meaning the mask would actually fit my face! WHOO HOO!
Hoping for something pink, yellow, or neon orange such that I could be easily located and potentially rescued while flailing and hyperventilating, I was a bit disappointed that my snorkel color options were blue. A nice dark blue to apparently blend into the oceanic surroundings. I guess when you’re the only game in town you get to be Henry Ford. Boo.
Nevertheless, I was totally stoked and rather astonished to proudly possess my very own snorkeling equipment. Me, who is supposedly terrified of the ocean and all creatures great and small that inhabit it.
We packed the mask and breather thingy in our suitcase and hauled them to Maui last week for their inaugural use in the Ka’anapali waters. Spoiler alert: they were awesome!
|I feel pretty bad-ass in my surfer girl swim shirt, too.|
And no, I shall never ever surf.
It took Rob and me a few days to discern the best snorkel spot. Maui was new to us, so we asked lots of locals and consulted several guidebooks.
Although the beach right in front our resort was rated the best snorkel venue on the island, it was completely open ocean. No exposed reefs or natural barriers to give me a cozy sense of structure and protection.
Another recommendation was called Baby Beach. While offering very minimal waves and water you could stand up in, it was also extraordinarily popular with young families and their Little Swimmers®.
“Ummm….I don’t want to snorkel here.”
“Why not? It looks pretty safe. Look at all the kids.”
“Too many bodily fluids.”
Come on, I know the ocean is big but I can’t be the only one who thinks of these things. Can I? Ewww.
We finally settled on Black Rock. It was a snuggly beach right up against a big...black rock...that a hotel chain had incorporated into its beachy landscape. There were lots of people snorkeling, which gave me a sense of safety in numbers. The rock also promised to be a good fish attractant.
We snorkeled there two days in a row. It really was a great spot. My mask stayed well-suctioned and my mouthpiece never filled with salty water. WHO KNEW!?!
We got to see some of the same types of fish we are used to seeing in Kauai. The flat yellow ones, the striped ones with wispy fins, the zippy zebra ones, the long pointy silver ones, my favorite pink and turquoise rainbow trouty ones. I’m clearly not an ichthyologist. Nevertheless, seeing those old nameless fishy friends gave me great comfort.
We also got to meet some new sea friends. Sort of.
Our arrival was announced by some bright yellow trumpetfish. We also spotted a totally camouflaged flounder who looked entirely like sand and nothing like the adorable yellow and blue guy in “The Little Mermaid.”
I got stared down by a couple of cuttlefish. I mean totally stared down. They were only about the size of my hand but they were fearless. I was not. Twice I tried to intimidate the cuttles by glaring into their buggy, disproportionately large, glassy eyes. Twice I got freaked out as they arrogantly fringed closer to my mask and made me flail out of their way in defeat. Mollusks are scary, man!
But not as scary as sea turtles.
We had seen turtles in Kauai. From the land and from a distance. Very graceful, peaceful creatures when viewed from above.
We had some warning that there were some sea turtles floating around Black Rock. The crowd of tourists lining the shore with waterproof cameras and shrieks of “TURTLE!!!” was our first clue.
While I wanted to see a turtle while snorkeling, I wanted to see it over there. In the distance. Going the other way. I wanted to admire it from afar, as I like to enjoy most aquatic life.
Rob and I were snorkeling about, holding hands as we do to give us both piece of mind (it’s easier for Rob to know where his trepidatious wife is if she’s hanging onto him). Rob squeezed my hand and pointed ahead of us with his other, signaling that something noteworthy was in sight.
Gradually coming into focus in the sandy water was a sea turtle, heading right towards me. Its shell was about the size of an XL pizza pan. Not a dainty sea creature.
As the turtle got closer, I noticed its mouth…which was opening and closing…was unexpectedly large and had some impressively pointy teeth in it. Pretty certain the turtle was planning to eat me, I rather gracefully slid down Rob’s leg and climbed onto his back. Within seconds, Rob and I were tandem snorkeling…with no warning to Rob that we were transitioning to this new approach.
I could hear Rob snorkel laughing as the turtle glided past us, me deftly clinging to Rob’s other leg now. To anyone watching…including the turtle…I prefer to think it merely looked like I was courteously giving the turtle the right-of-way and not cowering in terror on Rob.
Spinning around, we watched the turtle slowly soar away from us. Instead of paddling like I was expecting, its front flippers flapped up and down to propel forward through the water, looking a lot like Sister Bertrille from “The Flying Nun.” It was quite endearing, really, once I knew I was no longer being eyed as turtle kibble.
|Imagine a greenish yellow habit and Sally Field|
opening and closing her mouth and I swear...sea turtle.
We saw another turtle the next day. Rob was better prepared for tandem snorkeling this time. The second turtle was a bit larger, however, more like a VW Beetle. I casually signaled its location to the camera-ready tourists on the beach by flailing, flopping, and thrashing about in the water to get out of its way. There might have been an accusation or two of “IT’S STALKING ME!” For not being a strong swimmer, it really was quite impressive how quickly I got to the other side of the beach.
The rest of our snorkel adventure was peaceful and uneventful, save for the constant need to clear my long gray hair from in front of my mask. I am absolutely not used to having longish hair on my head, so I was completely unprepared with any means of keeping it held back.
Back home, I acquired a 4-pack of black headbands like what fashionable teen soccer girls wear. I am embarrassed to say how long it took me to find the headbands in Walgreens. I don’t do hair accessories; I don’t even own a comb or brush. I kept trying to figure out why “Long” headbands were the size of bracelets. I eventually moved to another section with long headbands that were actually long and not ones described by their holding power. Goodness, girl hair is confusing.
|It took me far too long to figure out there's a|
grippy side and a "pretty" side to the band.
Oy, how do you girls do this??
One of our last purchases in Maui was a pink flowered cinch bag that has officially been deemed My Snorkel Bag. It has my headbands in it, too. I’m quite tickled that I have such a bag and am already musing about other non-turtle locations I might take it to.